In our line of work, our clients are the people who intrigue us the most. Get To Know is a series by Aquí Design where we take you behind-the-scenes to find out who they are and what they do.
You might not know this, but one of our dreams at Aquí Design was to design coffee bags. And we will have you know that our dream came through in 2021, when we had the opportunity to work with Cata Coffee to reinvigorate their brand identity as well as create their website. It was an absolute pleasure to have worked with Cata Coffee as we learnt a lot about coffee in the process. In celebration of International Women’s Day this month, we speak to Marian Aguilar, Co-founder of Cata Coffee, whose passion and knowledge have always been an inspiration to Aquí Design.
Marian: Hi everyone, I am Marian Aguilar! I’m from the Venezuelan Andes, from a city called Valera, located in the western part of the country. When I was 11, my parents purchased a gorgeous coffee farm and started producing coffee. Never would I have imagined that this decision would then change the lives of my entire family. Today, amongst all siblings, three out of four of us are working in the coffee industry. In 2009, I moved to London to work for Monmouth Coffee Company and completed my training at the London School of Coffee – a place where I not only learnt about specialty coffee but also got the privilege to work with wonderful people from different cultures.
Marian: In 2015, I moved to Singapore to get married to my now-husband, Han, and we decided to settle down there. I was concerned if I was able to continue to work with coffee as I’d been doing it for so many years. Around the same time, Mercanta, a global coffee distributor headquartered in the UK, was expanding to Singapore and I was offered the opportunity to run their coffee lab. I gained a lot of insight into the coffee industry and market while I was there. It was also then that I discovered a gap in the market for high quality beans.
In May 2016, Han and I decided that it was a good time to start our own roastery. We took a chance and invested in a second-hand Giesen 1.5kg roaster machine, then started roasting in a tiny space within an industrial factory in Changi. And just like that, Cata Coffee was born.
We see ourselves as an honest roastery with a clear objective of making in-season coffees from different origins available in Singapore. It’s not just the quality that is important to us, we also focus on traceability - advocating for the history and origin behind each coffee.
Starting Cata Coffee has been an incredibly rewarding experience. To me, it has become a place where trust has been forged with our coffee partners, collaborators, and customers; a place to celebrate the magical work behind a cup of coffee.
“To me, it has become a place where trust has been forged with our coffee partners, collaborators, and customers; a place to celebrate the magical work behind a cup of coffee.”
Marian: In my hometown, guayoyito - filtered coffee blended with papelon (cane sugar) - was always served to house guests. I remember looking forward to getting a sip of the guayoyito back when I used to accompany my parents to visit offices or friends’ places. That was my earliest memory of tasting coffee; just thinking of the comforting and sweet aroma reminds me of home.
Marian: Coffee and water are the two key ingredients. Both play an equally essential role in shaping the finishing product. Both ingredients have to be in optimal conditions in order to produce a good cup of coffee.
The rise of technology in recent years has bridged the gap between farmers and consumers. I see Cata Coffee as an intermediary that connects the two. Seasonality is a key factor in our approach since most of the coffee producers we work with are in a different country. That being said, we have the responsibility to represent producers and their produce, showcasing their coffee fresh from the harvest when they are at their best.
Marian: Coffee follows a naturally and beautifully crop cycle – referring to the period of growth of the coffee cherry. The ideal altitude to grow Arabica coffees is at least 1100 MASL (meters above sea level). The elevation helps ensure a slow maturation of the coffee cherry. The benefit of producing coffee in high altitude is to allow the concentrated sugars of the coffee cherry to develop more evenly, giving the final cup more structure and complex flavours.
A good crop will depend on the entire year of the weather – an optimal rainy season will be key for a good flowering to initiate the fruit development that takes 9 months. Consequently, if there is a dry year it will put the plant under too much stress, dramatically affecting the farm yield.
We understand the challenges coffee producers face. It also frustrates us to see how the earth’s largest rainforest has been destroyed due to the atrocities committed by people in power in countries such as Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. This is a problem that affects the entire world. For the coffee industry, a low yield means a decrease in supply, which means the price for coffee will increase, significantly affecting both the farmers and consumers.
The question is: Is the coffee industry doing enough to decelerate climate change? Given the impact that the climate has on the coffee industry, we believe that every company has the obligation to reflect on the way they conduct their business. There are small actions that can be taken on a business level. For example, sharing transportation from the origin with other local roasters, or buying directly from a local or regional coffee importer. Locally, we can consolidate deliveries for less time a week to reduce footprint, encourage the use of canisters for consumers to top up their freshly roasted beans, or reduce the use of foil bags and takeaway cups.
We have seen some slow improvements over the years, however, time is running out and we have to do more - as much as we can.
“This is a problem that affects the entire world. For the coffee industry, a low yield means a decrease in supply, which means the price for coffee will increase, significantly affecting both the farmers and consumers.”
Marian: Singapore is filled with talented people and the coffee industry is not an exception. From roasters to baristas, I see a lot of mutual support that the new generation is not afraid to give. There are many key players that have been giving so much in order for the industry to take off. To name a few: Compound Coffee is a co-roasting space designed to guide enthusiast or beginner roasters into the fascinating world of specialty coffee. Singapore Roasters Forum is an open platform/community created by roasters to facilitate the sharing and exchanging of knowledge between coffee professionals in Singapore, keeping us informed with the latest topics.
Marian: Good coffee starts with wonderful people. I am truly inspired by producer histories and how they overcome challenges.
I have been enjoying Zempoaltecatl Reserve - a special lot produced by Rosa Maria Petra with the expertise of the Santuario Project, a group that specialise in innovative processing techniques. Rosa’s farm is located in Ixhuatlan, Veracruz – Mexico, where she produces the ancient varietal Bourbon Centennial.
This rare microlot is strikingly fruity and floral, finding its place as one of the best coffees we have tasted. It is juicy and complex, this coffee has vibrant flavours of blueberries and glace cherry, giving way to delicate lavender notes.
1. Use 20g of coffee, medium coarse. 300g of filtered water set to 93°C.
2. Bloom for 45 seconds with 50g, light circular pours.
3. First Pour: 100g in a heavy centralised pour (150g in total).
4. Second Pour: At 1:30 circular pour 75g (225g in total).
5. Third Pour: At 2 minutes, add 75g in a heavy centralised pour (300g in total).
“Good coffee starts with wonderful people. I am truly inspired by producer histories and how they overcome challenges.”
Marian: Design is present in my daily life. Coming from Latin America, I like and need to be surrounded by colours. For example: a basket filled with tropical fruits: pineapple, papaya, dragon fruits, and bananas. I am also very interested in plants and herbs; their colours, textures and growing journey fascinate me.
In my own time, I like to delve into a good magazine. I’m a very visual person and I appreciate when images, fonts and layouts come together to form good design.
In terms of work, I design roasting profiles for our coffees. Part of my work is to evaluate our roast, describe aromas and tasting notes which involve fruits and nuts. Prior to a new coffee release, we have to choose the colour of the thumbnail, and it is interesting how this has much relation with the tasting notes. For instance, a yellow label will be used for citrus coffees and a purple label will be for those with berry flavours. I remember when María from Aquí Design proposed to us the idea to use colours to illustrate coffee flavours during the branding process.
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